Several days ago I received a sublime gift: to sit with a dear friend in her pain. It may not sound like a gift to you, but hear me out. My friend’s life has been upended in so many ways; what were solid foundations of her spiritual, emotional, and physical life have been torn out from under her almost entirely by dire circumstances. She has some help, but she has no energy left to hope. She has some safe people, but she must also ward off well-meaning personal terrorists every day.
And I – little old me – had the incredible privilege just to sit with her in the depths of the pain: listening, crying, breathing silent prayers for her.
It brought me back in time to my years of an upended life, of solid foundations turned to farina, of utter spiritual darkness. And I told her so.
It silenced me: no unsolicited advice, no perpetual optimism, no trite cliches, no selfish agenda, no avoidance of reality. She was grateful just to be heard, freely and without judgment.
She said that just hearing me say that what she was saying sounded familiar, that it seemed like she was telling me my own story, that I had felt and thought so many things that she is currently feeling and thinking…just knowing that I had survived, and had even escaped bitterness!, brought her immense hope in an immensely hopeless place.
Our conversation ended with me asking, “What help do you have?” I live several hours’ drive away; I’m no good to her physically. She has other people to help with daily physical needs. She has a few safe friends who can help her through weekly emotional needs. And I promised to help spiritually – stalwartly holding out hope for her since her hope-well has long since run dry.
We embraced outside the coffee shop where we’d just emptied buckets of tears. We kissed each other’s cheeks as we always do. And then we turned and walked in opposite directions – my steps easy, hers heavy. I choked back tears as we parted. Mixed tears. Tears of pain as I thought of all of the other people in this world who are in a similar place as my dear friend. And heart-swelling tears of joy at her Kilimanjaro of faith and courage — just to walk back to her car, into the unceasing reality of her current trial.
When I got home I texted her:
“Conversations like ours today are such a sublime gift to me. They don’t undo the pain of past years; they don’t tie it all together with a happy bow. But somehow, in the tiniest of kingdom ways, they actually make all the pain worth having been endured; they make me proud and grateful just to have survived it; not as though God is saying, “I told you so — I told you that I’d make it all good after all!” but as though He is giving me just one priceless little gift of pain redeemed in the midst of the still interwoven mystery of it all. So thank you, dear pilgrim on the journey, for the precious gift of just sitting with you in your pain today. My thoughts are ever for you in the steady prayer stream in the recesses of my mind. May God keep you afloat even in His apparent absence, silence, and invisibility.”
(I know; long text.)
I wanted to share this because maybe you’re in a similar place as my dear girlfriend. If so, know that someone else has gone through what you’re going through — and survived! You’re not alone. And know that today, in this very moment, I’m holding onto hope on your behalf. It’s like bringing you dinner when you can’t make dinner for yourself. It’s like holding a colicky baby for a new mother when she just can’t endure the fussing one more minute. Only a bit less tangible.
And I wanted to share this because if you’re not in a similar place as my dear girlfriend, then there is definitely a person in your circle of friends, family, or acquaintances whose life would be immensely blessed if you would just sit with them in their pain. Remember: no unsolicited advice, no perpetual optimism, no trite cliches, no selfish agenda, no avoidance of reality. Just listen. Just cry. Just pray. Just kiss her beautiful cheeks. And – in the invisible ‘spiritual’ realms – hold out hope for her since she just may not be able to do so for herself for one more minute.